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The LDS Church and the ‘Widow’s Mite’

With an up and coming election, and with the Republican candidate being a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, it is no small wonder that Bloomberg Businessweek magazine would take a keen interest in the financial affairs of the LDS Church. In July 2012 the cover story of their magazine was titled “How the Mormons Make Money.” The main objective of the article was an attempt to prove that the LDS Church is a money making empire based on worldly principles, however, that is not true. The Church of Jesus Christ is financially independent because of the blessings that it receives from adhering to eternal principles.

The Law of Tithing

A photo of a family handing tithing to their bishop.Latter-day Saints (or Mormons as they are commonly referred) are familiar with the story of the widow’s mite as recorded in the New Testament of the Bible in Mark 12:41-44:

And Jesus sat over against the treasury, and beheld how the people cast money into the treasury: and many that were rich cast in much. And there came a certain poor widow, and she threw in two mites, which make a farthing. And he called unto him his disciples, and saith unto them, verily I say unto you, that this poor widow hath cast more in, than all they which have cast into the treasury: for all they did cast in of their abundance; but she of her want did cast in all that she had, even all her living.

The story teaches the law of tithing. The law of tithing was followed by people anciently, and on 8 July 1838, the Lord revealed to Joseph Smith, the first Prophet of the Church of Jesus Christ, the law of tithing as it applies to the members of the Church in this dispensation. It is an important law that faithful Latter-day Saints become familiar with starting from their early childhood.

Gordon B. Hinckley, the 15th President of The Church of Jesus Christ taught:

Our major source of revenue is the ancient law of the tithe. Our people are expected to pay 10 percent of their income to move forward the work of the Church. The remarkable and wonderful thing is that they do it. Tithing is not so much a matter of dollars as it is a matter of faith. It becomes a privilege and an opportunity, not a burden. [1]

Latter-day Saints believe the principles of the gospel that are taught in the Book of Mormon (Another Testament of Jesus Christ), in 3 Nephi 24:10 (see also Malachi 3:10):

Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in my house; and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of Hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing that there shall not be room enough to receive it.

One of the blessings of membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the privilege of paying tithing. This privilege is actually a double blessing. By paying an honest tithe, Church members show their gratitude to God for the blessings that he bestows upon them and their resolve to put their trust in the Lord rather than in material things. The commandment to pay tithing is found in modern day revelation as recorded in Doctrine and Covenants 119:4:

And after that, those who have thus been tithed shall pay one-tenth of all their interest annually; and this shall be a standing law unto them forever, for my holy priesthood, saith the Lord.

To fulfill this commandment, Church members give one-tenth of their income as tithing donations to the leaders of their local congregations – either a member of the Bishopric in a Ward, or a member of the Branch Presidency in a Branch. The local leaders than transmit the amount of the tithing funds directly to Church headquarters in Salt Lake City, Utah, where a council, known as the Council on the Disposition of the Tithes, comprised of the First Presidency, the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, and the Presiding Bishopric, determine specific ways to distribute the sacred funds.

Acting according to revelation, they make decisions as they are directed by the Lord. (See Doctrine and Covenants (D&C) 120:1.) Tithing funds are always used for the Lord’s purposes—to build and maintain temples and meetinghouses, to support missionary work, to aid in the education of the members, and to further the work of the Lord throughout the world by blessing the lives of others of God’s children, affording them the opportunity to learn more about the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, and to grow in the knowledge of the gospel.

The Lord’s Law of Finance

While serving as the Second Counselor in the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Gordon B. Hinckley delivered a devotional address titled “The Widow’s Mite” at Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah on 17 September 1985. During the course of that address, President Hinckley made the following remarks concerning the financial status of the LDS Church:

Where does the money come from? There are many who look upon the Church as an organization of great wealth. We have been classified as being equal to many institutions of the Fortune 500. Our assets are spoken of glibly by those who either do not know the facts, or with gross distortion for purposes of sensationalism.

The fact, of course, is that we do have tremendous assets when the value of all Church buildings and facilities is included. But these assets are not income producing. They are consumers. They consist of thousands of meetinghouses across the world, many temples, seminaries and institutes, and, of course, Brigham Young University. They have cost millions in investments, and they produce scarcely anything in the way of a direct dollar return on those investments. There is only one reason for their existence, and that is to serve the needs of people as sons and daughters of God who have a peculiar and important relationship with him.

When all is said and done, the Church is wealthy only in the faith of its people. One of the expressions of that faith is the payment of tithing. The Church is spoken of as an institution with great business interests. The income from those business properties would keep the Church going for only a very short time. The fact is that tithing is the Lord’s law of finance.

The Use of the ‘Widow’s Mite’

Most of the financial resources of The Church of Jesus Christ are used to construct and maintain buildings and other facilities that are used by the Church. The Church also expends funds to provide social welfare and relief and to support educational programs, the world wide Church missionary program, and other Church-sponsored programs. Although the LDS Church does not pay its local leadership, General Authorities and Mission Presidents serving in full-time leadership positions can receive a stipends from the Church in the form of housing, living allowances, and other benefits while they are on assignment. It should be noted, however, that no funds are provided for services rendered.

As the membership of the LDS Church continues to grow additional chapels (local meetinghouses where weekly worship services and baptisms are held) and temples are constructed as wards and branches (local congregations) of the Church are organized. Between 1998 and 2001, the LDS Church built 40 smaller temples.

The Church also pays to maintain its chapels and temples around the world. These facilities are considered cost-centers for the Church and a large portion of the Church’s income is allocated to their upkeep. These costs include: repairs, utilities, ground maintenance, and specialized custodial services. Members are also assigned general cleaning responsibilities of their local chapels, and at regularly scheduled times may also be assigned to perform general cleaning of the temples in their areas – both inside a temple and the temple grounds.

Materials that are used in church classes and the budgets that are allocated for various congregational activities, as well as other activities by individual quorums and auxiliaries, are centrally funded. The LDS Church also fumds the printing and distribution of manuals that are used for church classes.

The Church of Jesus Christ operates a welfare distribution system, as it encourages members to seek financial assistance from family and the LDS church’s Mormon charity first before seeking public or state-sponsored welfare. AgReserves Inc., Deseret Cattle and Citrus Ranch, and Farmland Reserve, Inc. are part of its welfare distribution system. Welfare resources are distributed by local Bishops but maintained by the Presiding Bishop of he Church. It also sends relief aid to victims of natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes and others around the world. The Humanitarian Aid efforts of the Church of Jesus Christ are so well-managed with Mormon volunteer labor that virtually one hundred percent of donations to the humanitarian aid fund go to the needy. [2] The LDS Church often partners with reputable organizations such as the American Red Cross and has operated with the United States Navy and the USNS Mercy in humanitarian aid efforts worldwide.

Funds from LDS Church donations are also used to support a large Church Educational System (CES) network consisting of several institutions that provide religious, as well as secular education for both Latter-day Saint and non-Latter-day Saint elementary, secondary, and post-secondary students and adult learners. The LDS Church owns and subsidizes education at three universities and an LDS Business College. It should be noted that CES courses of study are separate and distinct from regular church classes. The LDS Church also owns and operates a large broadcasting network that is used to broadcast such things as CES Firesides, General Conference sessions, General Relief Society meetings, General Young Women’s meetings, and special events of the LDS Church around the world.

According to a recent article titled “The Church and Its Financial Independence” published by the LDS Church on its newsroom website in response to the Bloomberg Businessweek article and magazine cover:

The Church exists to improve the lives of people across the world by bringing them closer to Jesus Christ. The assets of the Church are used in ways to support that mission. Buildings are built for members to come together to worship God and to be taught the gospel of Jesus Christ. Missionaries are sent to invite people to come to Christ. Resources are used to provide food and clothing for the needy and to provide ways for people to lift themselves up and be self-reliant. What is important is not the cost but the outcome.

Those who attempt to define the Church as an institution devoted to amassing monetary wealth miss the entire point: the Church’s purpose is to bring people to Christ and to follow His example by lifting the burdens of those who are struggling. The key to understanding the Church is to see it not as a worldwide corporation, but as millions of faithful members in thousands of congregations across the world following Christ and caring for each other and their neighbors.

Additional Resources:

Criticism follows Businessweek cover on Mormon Church finances 

The Church and Its Financial Independence

Mormon Giving

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